There are foods for which some people are willing to pay a premium price – lobster, aged steak, and truffles come to mind. But you might not expect butter to be on that list. Writer Alex Halberstadt wrote an article for SAVEUR called “Is the World’s Best Butter Worth 50 Dollars a Pound?” where he found the answer to his own question is – yes. He talked with host Francis Lam about Diane St. Clair, the artisan butter maker behind a fascinating and highly sought-after creamy creation.
Francis Lam: Alex, you wrote a story about phenomenal, unique butters. I have to ask, what makes a great butter great?
Alex Halberstadt: Throughout human history, we’ve had an awesome relationship with butter. The human race has held butter in high regard; the Tibetans still make sacred sculptures out of butter, and the ancient Scandinavians used to be buried with barrels of butter in their coffin. That’s because people saw butter as something almost miraculous. We’ve largely forgotten that, because, honestly, I don’t think anybody wants to be buried with a stick of Land O’ Lakes.
FL: When you say it’s a miracle of nature, it is woven into so much mythology and history. Tell me about the people who focus on butter.
AH: For me, one thing that makes butter worth thinking about is that it’s not cheese or pastry – it’s not made. You can only do so much: you have a cow, it gives you cream, and then you make butter out of it, essentially by beating up the cream. There’s not all that much to it. It’s essentially a pure presentation of the animal, the land that it comes from, and the person who makes it. As with wine, there’s not that much intervention.
FL: What does great butter taste like to you?
AH: There’s a creamy, sweet opening, and then – especially with cultured butter – you get a tangy, sour note in the middle. There’s a long finish that sometimes reminds me of hazelnuts. It’s very complete and fun – and incredibly delicious.
FL: You spent time with a renowned butter maker for your story; her name is Diane St. Clair.
AH: I did. I went to a little town in Vermont called Orwell – on the western side of the state – where she has her dairy farm. I remember driving for what seemed like half an hour down a service road and finally seeing her house. It was pelting rain; she came out wearing rubber boots, dressed like a New England farmer. She took me into her barn where there were 11 Jersey cows. We spent most…